|Jorge Aliaga Cacho at a bookshop in Tverskaya Street, Moscow|
by Jorge Aliaga Cacho
(Translated by Andina Aliaga)
Dorada had asked me to wait a few days, besides her English studies, to which she applied herself with great diligence, she was attending regular appointments for some kind of skin treatment. I would wait for her, I told her, with great fervour. As in the end, I said, waiting costs nothing. Days passed that turned into weeks and, as I had promised I waited patiently, until I decided to track her down. I called her house, but they wouldn’t tell me where she was or what she was doing. One day, her sister, surely the pain in my voice bothered her, told me that Dorada had gone to spend a few days at her aunties, and that as well as studying in this house in the country, she was resting, ultimately because Doradita had suffered a decline in health. This talk with her little sister calmed me down for a time. After a few days, I prepared to look for her again when the phone rang with the voice of Dorada apologising. She told me she had been poorly, but that now she was getting better. She was calling to invite me to accompany her on a work trip, into the depths of the jungle. I had travelled to other places with her, and, remembering these good times I accepted her proposition to repeat the experience, this time in the exotic Eden that is the Peruvian jungle.
On the day agreed for the trip, Dorada arrived at my house in a taxi. It was a Sunday night. Downstairs the car beeped its horn. I went out to greet her, ready, with my hand luggage. The car waited with its engine running and clattering. She kissed me softly and told me her boss was coming too. We would travel back together to San Ramon. We boarded the taxi. She got in the back door. She sat next to her boss. She shut the car door, flexing out her little finger to reach the lock. Her nail polish looked wet. I sat next to the driver, I acknowledged him with a nod and shook the hand of her boss. The driver started the car and farted at the same time. There was silence. I got myself together, but I hated him.
A few weeks had passed since I last saw Dorada. This had been a time of excuses. Everyday she must work hard on her studies, she said. I believed her because I had witnessed firsthand on one occasion that Dorada was a swot. This occurred once when we were holidaying in the desert of Atacama. She even read her English text book while we were in bed together. Turning the pages with one hand and slapping at the mosquitoes that were biting her legs with the other. These insects would wake up rather squashed and blood splattered. Dora kicked off her slippers, much to my joy, as this meant all the flying insects were dead and that soon she would take off her knickers. This enthusiasm was however short lived as she reached over to the bedside table and to my despair and amazement I read that the manual was available to study on audio cassette.
- This tape is on intransitive verbs- she told me.
What was really concerning me though was that there were tapes scattered all over the night table that she was eyeing up eagerly. I just wished that time would fly and we could get on with the carnal act, preferably before day break. At the end of tape number three Dorada took off the headphones, looking into my eyes with a coy smile on her face, as if she were entertaining mischievous thoughts. Knowing that she behaved like a good little Catholic girl at home I enjoyed this immensely. Reading her mind excited me. The mosquitoes were conspicuous in their absence, and she, before my eyes appeared not as one of Botticellis’ nymphs, but rather one of Decamerons’ girls.
Dorada was still sitting in the back seat. She asked me to speak in English. We went over some grammatical points that I was taught by my English teacher at Jesus Maria School headed ironically by Father named Beautifulmind. The Teacher taught us English with the support of his cane. His eyes shining maniacally, his face covered with sweat, he would brandish his cane in the air, then stop suddenly. The pupils waiting for their punishment, unable to guess who was going to fall victim of the next stroke. Unable to breath for a few moments. Via this method we would learn to successfully use auxiliary verbs, but after the holidays we would forget them, as we did with the names of the sacraments, and most fools would even forget the ten commandments. When this happened Father Beautifulmind asked us to kneel at the classroom door.
No teacher was allowed to make us sit on our knees. The only exception was The Teacher. Only The Teacher could do it. Speechlessly threatening us. His eyes dark and sadistic. He looked at us swishing his thick cane. The black tone of his eyes would change in intensity, swirling and almost popping out of his head. Sometimes when we failed to pay our school fees he would make us do hail marys’ in the hallway, but the fervent prayers would come to an end when we saw the Priests’ secretary walk by in her miniskirt. She had buckteeth, so we called her Bugs Bunny. With porcelain skin and a friendly smile, Gloria would walk the corridors while we kneeled in penance. The boys with their eyes wandering to the heavens, would closely observe her retreating buttocks as they made their way into the courtyard that was once blessed with the presence of the Archbishop. But on that occasion Bugs Bunny was out of school. She was not parading the hallways with her pert little behind. The Prelate listened attentively to Father Beautifulmind. The school report had pleased the Archbishop. Beautifulmind would at times interrupt his speech to whip at the legs of the third years kneeling before the Popes’ representative. Most of the strokes hit the air, few connected with the pupils, the boy who without fail always got hit was Quintanilla. The Prelate was unperturbed. In truth Father Beautifulmind was good. He was a man of God, he knew this, I knew this, as did Bugs Bunny, the third years and the Archbishop himself.
- I’ll give you the cane! - threatened Beautifulmind flourishing his enormous varnished stick.
- To which the students of the third, fourth and fifth years yelled keenly:
- Cane us!!!
In the rear view mirror I noticed her sweat. She dabbed at her nose discreetly with a handkerchief that she kept concealed up her jacket sleeve.
She told of how in Summer she wouldn’t leave the house during the day. Preferring to wait for the evening cool. She hated the sun, but for some contradictory reason, she wished to emigrate to Australia.
She changed the subject to say that she had been denied a visa for the United States, France and Spain. She felt awkward that France had refused her twice.
- How embarrassing! - She said.
The taxi stopped on the 28th of July Avenue. We waited at the station for the large coach with the engine still running. We would go to La Oroya and then go downhill into the lush greenery of the jungle. Through the window we could see rubbish everywhere.
Some children wearing filthy rags poked about in the mounds of rubbish and debris. A kid with a long trail of snot running from his nose into his mouth gathered plastic bottles, another, a little older found some stale bread and put it in a bag. La Victoria is the neighbourhood that houses the most popular football team in all of Peru: Alianza Lima. Rats prowled around the feet of the children like firecrackers, children who will surely on Sundays’ watch their team of champions, and in years to come will don a military uniform and be sent to fight the enemies of Peru.
My seat number didn’t allow me to sit with Dorada. She took her seat in the middle of the bus, we would have to plot something and fast, otherwise she would spend the duration of the journey next to a man I didn’t know and who seemed rather reserved. I asked, almost pleading, for him to change seats with Dorada. It was not necessary to ask him twice, as this knight in shining armour took his blue suitcase then gracefully parked himself into Doradas’ seat. His suitcase was not heavy, it was made of faded blue cloth and had a blurred inscription in white: I can love you, I can hate you, but I can never leave you, ALIANZA LIMA!
- You are very kind Sir! Very nice indeed! - I told him before he moved seats.
Dorada brushed past me, her elegant frame almost landing in my face. She had brought a crimson lipstick and a bag full of papers from her office. In one hand she held a bottle of water and a little blue cushion for her neck. She put the bag into the overhead compartment and slumped into her seat. She looked at me. I looked at her. She rested her head on my chest, leaning in. Soon my lips sought hers. My hands sought her hands. I perked up. I kissed her gently. Our gaze merged. I looked at her beseechingly. Goose pimples. Pecks on the cheek. My arms curled around her waist. My chest puffed out against hers. Demanding glances. Her lips waited expectantly. Her black hair shone. My hands twitching. I kissed her forehead and very quietly asked her to lower her trousers. She blushed, but let out a nervous laugh that turned into a cackle.
- Cheeky! She said, and she resumed her coquettish manner.
She was sitting in the window seat. I bent over to hug her. We reclined our seats. Some passengers closed their eyes. Others opened them. I went back to snuggling into her breasts. Her little top was threatening to spill its contents. I was happy. I had tucked myself nicely into her ‘Andes’ when she covered us with a blanket. I would wake up with my face rolling around between her breasts. Soon in the darkness under the blanket, my hand would meet with a persistent blocking hand. The passengers looked on through the corners of their eyes. The bus passed through the cold little villages, sometimes trundling down hill, sometimes ascending. Dorada laughed and kissed. I kissed and laughed. My temperature raised and I was certain that tonight surely Dorada would be mine.
The window was steamed up. Someone had written the name Daphne with their finger. I rubbed it out so I could look out at the little thatched houses. Afterwards I wrote Dorada, but then I rubbed that out too.
As we passed through the thatched houses, I remembered my childhood neighbourhood, the mansions, colonial Spanish houses and the slums in the alleys. I drew closer to the window. The condensation had started to drip like tears. I drew a circle with my index finger and inside drew the silhouette of a woman: an ass, two boobies. I rubbed it out. We arrived at Tarma, Dorada was sleeping. We went swiftly by the facades of buildings. The bus appeared as though it were static, what seemed to be moving where the houses, garages and hotels.
The clay walls displayed electoral slogans: Ollanta, APRA, Unidad Nacional. General Odria was born in Tarma, a former dictator of Peru. I remembered the stories of the APRA and Communists tortured by his henchmen. I also remembered the Home Secretary; whose name was synonymous with murderer. In Moquegua Street, in the conference room of an old Spanish colonial house, former Secretary General of the Communist Party Venancio used to make addresses, today it is a sad little whore house.
- Zanartu! - Venancio would shout.
- Zanartu! - he would repeat.
And every time he bellowed this name, his Ariquipenan accent deepened. The audience sat in little red chairs in rows, shaking, shivers down their spines. The comrades in the front row were quietly sat before a mural of Mariategui smiling, then they started to clap slowly upon the arrival of the revolutionary, in crescendo, they greeted the arriving comrade Venancio, who smiling, started to join them, clapping in time with the audience.
Venancio, the veteran print worker, wore his glasses far down his nose, only using the lenses to read his speech. Leaving his eyes free to discern his audience. Isidoro Gamarra would do something similar when he gave speeches at the same place, but Gamarra would enter quickly, shuffling along the ground. The president of the CGTP would always arrive smiling, though I never discovered if he was for real. His face, I believe, was born smiling. I noticed this once at a conference, when he was absolutely fuming, letting off sparks. Gamarra raged and attacked, yet smiled.
Venancios’ way was to arrive notes in hand. Carefully following each letter of his speech to the end. He started each page carefully, and when it came to a climatic point he would wave his index finger in time with each accusatory syllable. At times, his voice would break. He condemned his imprisonment. He had been left half deaf, and maybe half dead. He spoke of the beatings they had inflicted upon him, on the rocks where the sea lions rest, outside the island prison of Callao. Submerging his head in pools of water he said. They hit him all over his body. They tied his legs together and dipped him into a well, when he was about to drown the torturers ushered him back to the surface in order to kick, slap and spit on him. They left him hanging like a chicken in a market, then dunked him under again.
- Death to imperialism!
- Death! - responded the audience.
Immersed in my political memories, I found her breasts. Sweetly, I gave her a little kiss on the lips. Now on the breast. How lovely she was! I bathed in her fragrance. I could feel the presence of our neighbouring passengers. The bus, roaring, plodded along the roads in the direction of the jungle. Climbing ever upwards like a Puma scaling the rugged mountains, while I found comfort in that crevice, that for a while, allowed me to lose all concept of time.
We arrived at San Ramon. It was raining. We found shelter under a tin roof on the corner. The rain drops like onomatopoeic spatters above our heads. The tuk-tuk pulled up, a rickety mode of transport with room for two passengers, a whole host of bags, a mother in law and a small donkey. In Lima you really can appreciate how these plucky little vehicles manage to navigate the slopes. The drivers loading their taxis’ with all and sundry in order to earn one Sol more to take home to their families. Striving for an impossible dream. Once I saw a tuk-tuk with two people in the back, though it was tricky to confirm with accuracy who those four eyes belonged to in the middle of all those bags of rice, straw chairs, bedside tables and a parrot who continued to fly out of one window and back through the other. Fleeing the scene with its cargo of incognito passengers.
- Taxi! - I continued to call.
Doradas’ boss boarded the little vehicle ass first. I said goodbye to her with the sensation that I would never meet her again. She left clutching her accounting files, leaving no trace in her wake. Indeed, I would not lay eyes on her again, or ever find out her destination. The next taxi came swiftly. The drivers eyes were sunken into an impish face. We did not speak. He took Doradas’ luggage and heaved it onto the make-shift rack at the rear of the tuc-tuc, He put mine there too.
This was the quickest journey of my life. In two minutes we were inside the hotel. El Parral had its doors half shut but we could see the lights on inside. The receptionist opened the door. In the bar, at the back, things were displayed for sale: soap, razers, shampoos, toilet paper and multi-coloured condoms. We asked for two rooms. We signed the visitor book but they didn’t ask for any documents. Dorada always went to that hotel. The ONG where she worked had offices just around the corner. We were given rooms 203 and 201. Dora took the first. At dawn, when I awoke upon a pair of firm breasts, I realised that room 201 had a lonely night.
My eyes opened and I saw Doradas’ sweater hanging from a nail that served as a hook. The nail was large, bent and rusted in the middle. Dora had been watching the light bulb dangling from the ceiling. Marauding mosquitoes. I tried to scare them off with jabs, but they weren’t bothered. I changed strategy. I took a newspaper that was lying on the floor and rolled it into a fat club, then fired at will. I killed a few. And so went the night, bouts of kissing and fighting. Scratching here, scratching there. They refused to give up. We covered ourselves right up to our heads. I heard her moans and the hum of mosquitoes.
Encased in white sheets we met the dawn. Dorada was happy and mine. On the radio we listened to a Zambo Cavero song, and in the shower Dorada hummed: larai lai larara larai laila, larai lai larara larai laila…
This secret you share with me no one will know,
This secret will be hidden for eternity,
I assure you I’ll never say what happened
And don’t you worry, about all
That lies between you and me
This secret you share with me no one will know,
This secret will be hidden for eternity,
I assure you I’ll never say what happened
And don’t you worry, about all
That lies between you and me
No one will know that your chest, beat together with mine,
That we enjoyed moments of fascinating sweetness,
I’ll never say that there were nights I adored you madly,
Nobody will know that in your arms,
Drunk with love, I fell asleep.
She came out of the bathroom and wrapped her arms around me, talking about how much we had done together.
- It was great! - I said.
Dorada wanted to stay in bed longer, but a pile of paperwork was waiting for her at the office. She had to go, but didn’t want to. She took some clean underwear out of a plastic bag, almost getting onto the ground to put them on she slipped her legs through the holes and deftly wriggled them up, securing the elastic firmly around her waist.
She dried her hair. Her legs were still damp, she‘d missed bits with her towel. She put on her bra, looking at her I repeated my reluctance that she leave for the office. She seemed undecided. She asked me to go to the room we had booked for me the night before. The cleaners here were gossips. Kissing her I promised.
She told me that in San Ramon the people are interested in everyone else’s business. She also said that she loved me and that she was prepared to go anywhere with me. Dorada let out a nervous laugh, realizing that I had never suggested anything of the sort. Her nose was on the point of sweating once again.
- I don’t want to go to the office - she repeated.
She wanted to stay, but because of her work load meant that she must go. She would be back soon. She hunted for her lipstick. She tracked it down under the bed. She was squatting. Her hair already frizzy from the humidity. She wore a pair of grey trousers that were a little tight. She had difficulty doing up the buttons. She covered her top half in a white blouse, and stuck on a pair of trainers, she perched herself on the edge of the bed. She got up. Now fully dressed. She made her way to the door then turned back. She kissed me. Taking her brush for curly hair with her, she left. I could hear her trainers squeak as she made her way down the stairs. In no time I was asleep.
- Excuse me Sir! Said the maid that woke me up.
A woman’s head loomed in the doorway. I had forgotten to go back to my room. My boxers were still on the floor. I wanted to recover the composure this unknown face had taken from me. I wanted to say something logical, but I couldn’t. The woman’s gaze fell onto a pair of socks haphazardly strewn across the floor. She then checked out the toiletries that Dorada had left out on the night stand. I sunk my head into the pillow and not knowing what to say, I listened.
- Sorry Sir! Would you like me to clean your room? - she said.
- Good day! No I don’t want you to change the bedclothes today - I said.
I slipped back under the covers and laughing at myself repeated my answer: Good day! No, I don’t want you to change the bedclothes today.
- How dumb! - I said aloud, laughing.
Repeating again my words:
- Good day! No, I don’t want you to change the bedclothes today.
- What a moron I am! - I said, chortling.
At noon I left the hotel to look round the town. I walked to the corner about fifty metres away. There stood the town square with its two principal buildings: the town hall and the home ground of the local football team: El Centenario. I walked right round the square, following the pavement, admiring the church that was partly hidden under a canopy of trees. I came to a street full of restaurants. On the corner a crowd had gathered ready for worship. I made my way up the street of restaurants. All sorts of business was carried out here. I double checked my wallet was in my pocket. In there was all the money that I needed to make my journey to Pozuzo. I felt it was time I acquainted myself with the place where nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, sailors had come from Austria and Germany, poor Europeans in search of a better future, and who built it right there in the Peruvian jungle.
I once wondered how they got to the port at Callao, on board the Norton. My fat friend Churrunaga had told me the story some time ago:
They spent a three-day quarantine on the island of San Lorenzo. After having eaten, drunk and rested, they set out to Huacho where residents saw them flying the British flag on its mast.
- And where did they sail, fatty smarty-pants? I prompted mockingly.
Chubby Churrunaga, a native of Oxapampa, a medical student in San Marcos University, salesman of pressure cookers, adjusted his glasses before amazing me with his erudite answer.
- The Norton sailed to Silz Tyrol, on the 26th of March 1856.
Dorada was to meet up with me for lunch. I still had a few minutes to get through town. I found her at the corner of the ‘shared taxi’ rank, here you don’t always get a taxi to yourself; she smiled upon seeing me. We kissed quickly. She abruptly announced that were going to eat Chinese food.
- How indigenous. I replied sarcastically.
The Chinese restaurant was near the town square. It had a garden that welcomed the sun. There we chatted over glasses of Inca Kola and cool beer. Dorada said she would go. That everything was fixed. She was going to work in Australia. She had studied English intensively. She would go, she would triumph. That she could no longer live in Peru. That they had not wanted to give her a visa for France or for the United States. This had caused her embarrassment. In Australia she had a friend and her visa was almost ready. Her agent in Lima had been ‘assisting’ her with this plan for two years. Her eyes shone brightly. I had almost forgotten that only yesterday she had said playfully that she wanted to hide in my suitcase and travel with me. To hear her, I felt, somehow, as if things had been put into place. Then I pondered on the impossibility of that project, travelling in my suitcase, like a stash of contraband, to some place of my choice. Dorada continued with her moaning:
In Peru everything is bad, everything is corrupt, the people are not paid; they don’t have work, the office hours are long, but in Australia everything would be different.
Who told her that the situation would be so easy away from home? I thought. I knew that it would be difficult in any part of the world. How could I tell her that her peers in the middle class district of Miraflores leave their homes and go to work as servants in the houses of the gringos. I felt melancholic , I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t want to crush Doradas dreams. I took her hand and looked at her poignant face with devoted eyes. I was going to say something, but I sealed my lips and shut up. Dorada rose from the table, she was too hot and needed to splash her face. I watched her walk down the courtyard garden, her buttocks swaying, under a sunset sky. Upon her return, and before she finished taking her seat, I looked into her black eyes looked, squinting in the sun:
- You will triumph Dorada! - I cheered. But she failed to smile.
We rushed through lunch. I thought it was a sacrilegious that she had ordered lomo saltado, a Peruvian dish, in a Chinese restaurant. The Wan Tan soup we had consumed had made me sweat and my fried rice was discarded half eaten . I paid the bill and we left. We crossed the square. A street vendor was sitting on a worn concrete bench. The man looked like he was on his last legs. He was wrapped in rags, carrying a box half full of cigarettes and chewing gum. The little man was threatening to collapse from malnutrition. He slept, but this was no siesta. Dorada noticed him and quickened her pace. We walked together to the corner of the square. We were engrossed in a goodbye hug when a loud crash caused me to loosen my grip from her waist and investigate the source of the noise: the peddlar lay on the floor face down on the concrete. His arms were lying out stretched, and his hands open as if to reach for the cigarettes that had spilt from their packs onto the deserted pavement, in the plaza of San Ramon.
I boarded a shared taxi at the rank on the corner of the square. The driver packed in the passengers. I could still make out Dorada in the distance, her blue trainers with white laces. She looked like she was mulling something over. I watched her until she became a point in the distance, then adjusted my gaze to the side of the road, where the San Ramon‘s football stadium stood proudly.
Music from the Peruvian Jungle
Nominated to Latin Grammy 2012